Bill Nye and the Harms and Merits of Creationism
Mechanical engineer Bill Nye has recently offered that parents should not be pressuring their children to believe in Creationism. Nye, best known as the host of the PBS children’s science program Bill Nye the Science Guy, made the assertion in a video called “Creationism Is Not Appropriate for Children,” recently posted on YouTube by the online knowledge forum Big Think. He also suggested, among other things, that teaching children Creationism would stunt scientific progress. Should parents be teaching their children Creationism, or relegating it once and for all to the ash heap of history?
Nye made several claims which have stoked the ire of America’s evangelical Christian population, which is inordinately large and robust for a developed nation. The video opened with the former Boeing engineer’s claims that “[d]enial of evolution is unique to the United States,” and “[w]hen you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in [evolution] it holds everybody back. You’re just not going to get the right answers.” Indeed, the theory is the “fundamental idea in all of life science, all of biology.”
The Universal Life Church takes a humble perspective on faith and belief, as divine revelation isn’t repeatable or available to everyone in the same way; how faith guides us is unique for everyone. Science, on the other hand, is equally available to us all by its very nature. While scientists direct experimentation according to hypotheses, science itself isn’t held to validating narratives we hold dear; it can surprise us and prove us wrong. This is not true of dogmatic beliefs such as Creationism or Intelligent Design.
Certainly the desire to become a pastor doesn’t necessarily put one at odds with the work of researchers who follow the rigorous approach of the scientific method. Some understand it is part of their calling to be open-minded truth-seekers and to give credence to what processes we observe in the natural world while others strongly resist this notion. Nye implies, however, that the consequence of anti-science attitudes like evolution-denial is the obstruction of scientific progress. This type of progress is only possible through an appreciation of science, a tell-tale sign of which is an acceptance of its core concepts like evolution. In other words, if America is to remain innovative, we need to embrace concepts verified through the scientific method.
Perhaps Nye’s greatest concern is how some parents and pastors pressure children into adopting young Earth creationist theology as science. “If you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we’ve observed in the universe, that’s fine,” he says, addressing the adult viewers, “but don’t make your kids do it.” Are creationist parents and ordained ministers hurting children by teaching them that creationism is a “science”? How will we prepare children for a world with an ever-increasing demand for scientific literacy?
There is an overwhelming consensus among trained researchers that evolution–in the form of the natural selection of genetic mutations–provides the best explanation for the origin of life. Nye suggests in his video that we are shortchanging our children and sabotaging scientific progress and innovation by denying this fact. However, accepting scientific fact does not have to entail abandoning the idea that a supreme being exists. So long as the narrative doesn’t conflict with scientific observation (somewhere Creationism and Intelligent Design fail), it might save believers from the criticisms of people like Nye. It also does not mean that creation stories serve no purpose. They do. They serve as allegories, they mirror cultural values, and they function as a viable coping mechanism for pre-scientific societies. We should appreciate them for these reasons. For those who cherish such beliefs, let us teach children the mythology of creation, and the science of evolution.